- - Wednesday, September 30, 2020

America may well be headed for electoral chaos and not since the contested election of John Quincy Adams in 1824 could the resolution be so divisive.

COVID-19 and the push among progressive groups to harvest as many mail-in ballots as possible are driving millions more Americans to vote by mail than in the past.

The Electoral College convenes on Dec. 14, and it is hardly clear that every state will have a legitimate delegation of electors.

The presidential race has tightened. A favorable performance in the final debate, the continuing civil unrest and lawlessness in many Democratic-controlled cities and the unyielding demands of Black Lives Matter to defund the police and impose more quotas that discriminate on the basis of race may cause many more voters to decide they don’t want to roll the dice on Joe Biden. He leads a party that blames urban violence and terribly unsafe conditions in minority neighborhoods on the police, not the criminal elements.

We could emerge on Election Eve with Mr. Biden polling ahead by no more than four points, putting President Trump within striking distance in the Electoral College. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found 47% of Biden supporters plan to vote by mail whereas 86% of Trump supporters plan to vote in person.



The morning after, Mr. Trump could hold substantial leads in the actual but incomplete state vote tallies, but the Biden-leaning media asserting with some veracity that their modelers predict an accurate count of all the mail-in ballots would flip the election to Mr. Biden.

In 2018, ballots counted after election night reversed Republican leads in several California congressional districts — a fact we would likely hear referenced repeatedly from Biden-sympathetic media on election night and afterward.

You don’t have to be a Trump or anti-Trump conspiracy theorist to realize an accurate count before Dec. 14 is in serious jeopardy. Only five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah — routinely conduct all mail-in elections, and some 35 states have not heeded the U.S. Postal Service’s advice to require voters to request ballots at least 15 days in advance.

Ballots will arrive late — through no fault of the Postal Service or meddling from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s reforms — but be processed. Many mail-in ballots will be thrown out for signatures that don’t match voter registration cards and other irregularities.

Several states — including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — do not allow mail-in ballots to be opened before Election Day. And experiences from the primaries indicate the surge of paper ballots could easily overwhelm well-meaning local officials.

The potential is ripe for lawsuits in many states — not just Florida as in Bush vs. Gore — that would find their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices could be ruling one way in some states and another in others and lack the luxury of time to send decisions back to lower courts with only a few days left before the Dec. 14 deadline.

Mr. Trump could hold a precarious lead in official tallies, but no clear winner could be confidently declared. Enabled by the inaction of Democratic mayors and governors, violence would critically disrupt major cities, and Mr. Trump could face few choices but to declare a national emergency, call up the National Guard in multiple jurisdictions and restore order.

Purposefully-slanted, cynical mainstream media protestations would terribly damage the credibility of American democracy at home and abroad.

The economic recovery is already slowing, and millions are seeing prospects of regaining full-time employment dashed, as hopes for compromise between the White House and Congress on additional stimulus evaporates.

Investors panic, crashing the stock market, and major American and foreign corporations start dumping dollars and U.S. Treasury securities in favor of yuan, euro and yen denominated debt. Most hiring and significant investments in business expansion and developing new products would seize up.

Already, the European and Japanese economies are limping and are dependent on exports to our market. China’s model of stability and brisk recovery could look pretty good compared to Mayor Bill de Blasio presiding over mayhem in Manhattan.  

Ultimately, the election would go to the House of Representatives, where each state gets one vote, and the GOP controls 27 delegations in the current House favoring Mr. Trump.

Much work needs to be done to cope with the pandemic and restore the U.S. economy, but the tenor of cooperation between a Democratically-controlled House and perhaps Senate, and second Trump administration would be even worse than during the last four years.

• Peter Morici, @pmorici1, is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist. 

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